A term which is applied to two very distinct branches of psychic healing. It sometimes denotes psychic healers who believe that they are making "surgical" changes in the astral double that upon completion of the "operation" are reflected in the physical body. Such psychic surgeons believe that the spirit of a dead doctor influences them, and observers see them enter a trance state from which they mime an operation over the body of the person seeking healing.
Typical of the first type is British healer George Chapman, who claimed to be controlled by the dead surgeon "Dr. Lang." Chapman diagnosed while in trance and simply laid his hands on the patient or made movements indicative of a phantom operation.
More interesting to psychic researchers, because of their extraordinary claims, have been the psychic surgeons in the Spiritualist communities of the Philippines and Brazil. They appear to perform real operations making an incision with bare hands, removing pathological matter, and causing an instantaneous healing of the incision. Such healers in the Philippines have been the subject of numerous popular books, including vivid pictures of apparent operations, and several volumes by observers who have dismissed the phenomena as a complete hoax. The two most famous psychic surgeons of this second type have been Tony Agpaoa in the Philippines and José Arigó in Brazil.
Accounts of Tony Agpaoa began to emerge in the 1960s. He used no anesthetic or scalpel, yet appeared to make an incision in which there was a liberal flow of blood. He appeared to insert his hands into the body and either remove pathological tissue with his hands or cut it away with unsterilized scissors. He then moved his hand over the incision, which seemed to close instantaneously, leaving no scar.
Operations conducted by Agpaoa and similar psychic surgeons in the Philippines have been photographed and even filmed and are impressive, especially to the untrained eye. However, there is every reason to believe that these "operations" have been faked. There is to date no clear incident of either Agapoa or any of the Philipine healers having ever opened the body and closed it again without leaving any evidence of their having operated. To the contrary, a spectrum of practicing magicians from a skeptic such as the Amazing Randi and Mil-bourne Christopher to a professional psychic such as David Hoy have agreed that the operations are done with slight of hand and have easily been able to duplicate every effect. It is suggested that if a small quantity of dried blood and a piece of animal tissue is palmed, the flesh "operated" on can be pinched and made to appear as if an incision has been made. The cure that follows would then be a matter of strong suggestion rather than actual surgery.
The issue is not so simple among the Brazilian healers. Andrija Puharich, himself a physician, visited Argió in Brazil and was the subject of a psychic operation for a small lipoma on the elbow. Arigó, who claimed to be controlled by the spirit "Dr. Fritz," made an incision with a pocket knife without anesthetic or sterilization and removed the tumor. A small incision scar was left (thus there was no paranormal opening or closing of the body), and the elbow healed over the next four days (there was no instantaneous healing). The operation was filmed, and it was clear that the tumor had been removed by rather mundane, if crude, means, and that the extraordinary character of the event was the lack of infection. Arigó was killed in an automobile accident before he could be more completely tested.
Thousands of invalids and the merely curious travelers have visited the Philippines, especially through the 1970s and 1980s, with an interest in psychic healing. While some have been healed, many have returned disillusioned after an expensive and tiresome trip. There they have also encountered what became a highly competitive business between the various healers and those who provide transportation to the various locations (mostly outside of Manila) where the healers operate. Over the years, the number of reported healings is no higher than that reported by more domestic healers be they psychic or religious.
Australian journalist Gert Chesi investigated the Philippine healers and warned readers about the situation they will encounter should they choose to go to the Philippine Islands. In his Geistheiler auf den Philippinen (English edition as Faith Healers in the Philippines, 1981), he draws upon his prior observation of tribal magical practices in Africa.
Chesi discovered what he believed were genuine as well as fake healers, and concluded that the dividing line is often a confusing one, since although the blood and the objects apparently removed from a patient's body may be unrelated to genuine surgery, they may still be part of a mysterious shamanistic healing process. He also discovered that some healers appeared to remove objects from a diseased body which are clearly unrelated to any genuine illness, such as coins, leaves, nails, plastic objects, or even garbage. Chesi suggests that such objects, as well as the blood, may be the products of the healer's imagination, becoming solidified as materializations or apports. Journalist Tom Valentine found that some of the psychic surgeons in the Philippines have "removed" not only tissue from the body of their patients, but also such things as eggshells, coffee grounds and even a crayfish. Like Chesi, Valentine concluded that such phenomena might be related to apports and that healers like Agpaoa materialize and dematerialize matter. This observation offers little help as it merely introduces one equally dubious phenomenon to explain another. The tissue from the operations that has been tested has been non-human in origin, instead generally that of chickens.
Some healers have argued that patients will not believe in the healer's power unless they see an apparent incision with plenty of blood, and a tangible object removed from the body. Other Philippine healers eschew such practices and regard such bloody operations as unnecessary. They practice a more traditional form of psychic or "magnetic healing."
Chesi, Gert. Faith Healers in the Philippines. Perlinger Verlag, 1981.
Christopher, Milbourne. Mediums, Mystics & the Occult. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1975.
Fuller, John G. Arigó. Surgeon of the Rusty Knife. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1974.
Randi, James. Flim-Flam: Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other Delusions. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1987.
Sherman, Harold. Wonder Healers of the Philippines. Los Angeles: DeVorss & Co., 1967.
Valentine, Tom. Psychic Surgery. Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1973.